Decoding Mr. Clean

So, there I was surfing Tumblr when I tumbled across this…

This contest had a lot on the line. First, being able to brag that you named Mr. Clean. Second, you win a house! If you were close, the next prize of transistor radio was not too bad either (in 1962). Mr. Clean made his television commercial debut in 1958, initially portrayed in the live-action versions. Within the first six months, Mr. Clean became the best-selling household cleaner on the market. Impressive results.

In 1957, Harry Barnhart conceived the idea and Ernie Allen in the art department at the advertising agency Tatham-Laird & Kudner in Chicago drew Mr. Clean as a muscular, tanned, bald man who cleans things very well. According to Procter & Gamble, the original model for the image of Mr. Clean was a United States Navy sailor from the city of Pensacola, Florida, although some people may think he is a genie based on his earring, folded arms, and tendency to appear magically at the appropriate time. In a New York Times obituary for the original illustrator, Richard Black, the product Mr. Clean was referenced to as the “Genie in a bottle”.

So, what is his first name? It is a strange one. The contest winner was Veritably. Yeah, I know. Weird. What is weirder is how Mr. Clean has been subtly used over decades of advertising.

He is kind of a cheeky dude. A creepy pirate/sailor who visits your home (and wife) when you are not there. A suburban genie who materializes when the woman of the house is in distress. Recent years has seen many speculate that Mr. Clean is gay. That would take care of his reputation as a magical philanderer, moving house to house, cleaning and servicing women in astounding numbers.

Mr. Clean has never been confirmed as gay by Procter & Gamble, who’ve skirted the question. If you Google “Is Mr. Clean gay?” the “official” answer that comes up is a Quora response that reads, “Mr. Clean is neither gay, straight nor bi, he is asexual because sex of any kind is just too dirty for him.”

Brian VanHooker writing for the site, MEL, said, “As for when Mr. Clean made the switch from polished genie dude to hunky gay guy, Procter & Gamble themselves put the date on that around the late 1980s or early 1990s. Back in 2000, Salon asked Procter & Gamble if Mr. Clean was gay, to which they responded, “We’ve been receiving questions like that for at least the past 10 years. We’re not sure where it started — it could have to do with his earring or his attire — but we like to think Mr. Clean was just a man before his time.””

This sexual ambiguity and hazy back story make Mr. Clean a mysterious mascot, one lacking honesty and transparency. It’s a good thing the product works.

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